By Jennifer Rollin, LCSW-C
Your recovery from an eating disorder is going strong. You’ve been making progress in terms of facing challenging foods, learning how to surf eating disorder urges, unpacking negative body image, and working diligently with your therapist and dietitian. You are finally starting to see the amazing life that you have without active eating disorder behaviors. Then, a major stressor hits you. Perhaps your relationship just ended, you got a new job, you lost a loved one, or have an upcoming graduation.
You don’t notice it at first but you have gradually started cutting back on food (or slipping into old food rules/other eating disorder behaviors), skipping therapy appointments, and notice that your thoughts are becoming more preoccupied with food and your body. Your eating disorder voice becomes louder, yet you are in denial that it is starting to take control again. Perhaps this regression ends in a slip of old behaviors or maybe even a full-blown relapse.
The following are three tips for what to do following a lapse or relapse in eating disorder recovery.
1. Reach out for support from a trained professional.
You may feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit that you are struggling again. However, reaching out for support when you are struggling is a sign of true strength, not weakness. If you are slipping in your recovery, it’s critical that you reach out to a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. Additionally, it’s important to be honest with them about the disordered behaviors that you are currently struggling with.
Your "eating disorder voice," may tell you that you aren't "sick enough" to seek help. This is utterly false. Everyone who is struggling, deserves access to help and support.
No one should have to recover from their eating disorder alone. You deserve to have support to help you to get back on track in your recovery.
2. Remind yourself of your reasons to recover.
When things feel hopeless or “too challenging”, it can be tough to find motivation to continue to work on your recovery. Many of my clients with eating disorders struggle with “black and white thinking.” For instance, you could be telling yourself something like, “I already failed at my recovery, I may as well just give up.” If these kinds of unhelpful thoughts start to pop up, it’s crucial that you remind yourself of your reasons to recover (as well as to practice some mindfulness techniques related to the unhelpful thoughts).
For instance, one exercise that I sometimes ask clients to do is to imagine what their life could look like 5 years from now if they stay trapped in their eating disorder vs. five years from now if they are recovered.
You deserve a full life, one that you cannot have if you continue to stay stuck in your eating disorder.
3. Practice self-compassion.
It's important to note that you are certainly not alone in experiencing a relapse or lapse in eating disorder recovery.
If you do experience this, it is important to try to practice some self-compassion. “Beating yourself up” for struggling will only serve to make you feel even worse. You have not failed; you simply need more support. Recovery is typically not a linear process, and you may have both successes and setbacks along the way.
Additionally, it’s important to note that you are not “starting again from square one.” Just because you had a relapse, does not invalidate all of the progress that you have already made. Instead of viewing your relapse or lapse as a “failure,” try to reframe it as an opportunity to learn from. You may just find that you emerge an even stronger person after having overcome the latest setback in your recovery.
You Deserve A Full Life
When you look back on your life at age 90, do you think that you will be fondly reminiscing about the amount of time you spent counting calories, avoiding social events, running obsessively on the treadmill, or hiding empty cartons of food in shame? Living trapped in an eating disorder is ultimately not a fulfilling life.
You didn’t choose to have an eating disorder and it makes sense that you may be unconsciously turning to old ways of coping that felt like they served you at one time in your life. You deserve to send yourself so much compassion.
Eating disorders are NOT choices, they are mental illnesses. However for some folks they may be in part unconscious coping skills for trying to manage past trauma, racism, anti-fat bias, anxiety, relational and attachment wounds, mood disorder symptoms-and stressful life events.
No matter what lies your eating disorder may be telling you, your life is worth so much more than obsessing about food and your body.
A relapse DOES NOT mean that you’ve failed. It is simply a warning sign of both increased eating disorder work that needs to happen and often underlying issues that have come up.
As always, i’m over here rooting for you!
Schedule a free 15 min consult for eating disorder therapy in MD, VA, DC, NY, FL, or recovery coaching worldwide.
The Eating Disorder Center is a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center founded by Jennifer Rollin. We specialize in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, OSFED, and body image issues. We provide eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Silver Spring, Germantown, and Washington D.C. We also provide eating disorder therapy in Arlington, Virginia and virtually throughout Virginia. Additionally, we offer eating disorder therapy virtually in New York (NYC), Florida, and California. We provide eating disorder recovery coaching via Zoom to people worldwide. Connect with us through our website at www.theeatingdisordercenter.com
The Eating Disorder Center
We are a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center in Rockville, Maryland.